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February 27, 2006

More Carrot Than Stick 

In my other post I state, maybe implicitely, that it's better and wise for the USA and the West in general to have allies among Arab and Muslim countries, even if these allies do not exactly meet the highest standards.

Here I want to explain why. It's because this situation requires more carrots thank sticks.

This conflict, the War against Islamism is an atypical one, because the doctrine employed is to win hearts and minds - in other words, to persuade the non-committed, and even the less radical enemies to change their minds and appreciate some of our values - those that make a society prosper. And this is better obtained with a carefully calibrated application of force complemented by a rather liberal distribution of rewards.

This has not always been the case. Actually, such approach is very rare in history. The last worldwide conflict was resolved with ruthless brute force; Germany, Japan and also Italy were mercilessely pounded until their capacity to wage war was almost zero, and the will of their people had been generally broken. It was necessary considered the ideological nature of the Axis powers, but no one in their right mind can say it was nice. And many other wars of the past were resolved with genocide or other very brutal means.

So what is different now?

One difference is a cultural shift. Whether we like it or not, this world is more post-modern and sensitive than it was even just sixty years ago. This is often taken to idiotic extremes losing all sense of history and proportions. From certain accounts, one would not understand if the incident being discussed is the Battle of Fallujah or the Rape of Nanking - or the massacre at My Lai for that matter. However - starting from different bases than the postmodernists - I think that we the West, the bearers of the ideas of individual rights and freedom against barbarism and tiranny, have the moral obligation to wage this war causing as little death, destruction and sufference as it is necessry to win.

Another important difference is very practical. Now we can, using precision ammunitions and advanced weapons, destroy tactical and strategic targets while minimizing collateral damage. During WWII this was not possible for technological limitations, so the moral argument was moot: there is no choice when you have only one option. But now we have more options, and I think we also have to use them.

The third factor is the mere scale of the problem, and I think this is more important than commonly acknowledged. There are about 1.3 billion Muslims on this world - several million in Europe and America - and Islamic countries occupy a huge territory, a belt from Morocco to Sudan, through the Arabian Peninsula to the borders of China to end just north of Australia with Indonesia. And this area also contains the largest oil reserves. I don't have the data handy, but I think that even at their highest point the Axis powers had and subjected maybe 200 - 300 million people* on a much less vast territory. The scale of today's problem is much bigger.

An all-out war with the whole of Muslims would require the most immense army ever seen - and thus a solid coalition comprising at least China or India alongside the USA, Europe, Russia and Australia (and no major player opposing it). The operations in Iraq used roughly one soldier for 160 - 170 people, and this number is/has been barely enough (some think it was definitely insufficient). Using the same metric, an invasion of the whole Muslim territory would require at least 10 million soldiers in the theatre, that means a 50 million strong army (for rotation and replacement purposes) plus an incredibly vast production, industrial and logistic apparatus to sustain it. Definitely not feasible in any realistic short or medium-term scenario (in other words, don't even think about it).

The extensive use of nuclear weapons certainly does not require all that, but it does not come for free either: its side effects would be the destruction of the oil infrastructure and facilities with a consequent oil shortage; widespread radioactive contamination even outside of the bombed zones; possibly, modifications of the Earth climate. And Russia and China may get, you know, somewhat upset about it.

But apart from practical considerations, do you really want to kill hundreds of millions of people and ravage one third of the globe without first trying a different approach when the option is available? Look inside your soul, and tell me.

* I'd appreciate if some reader could provide more accurate figures - but nitpicking on that would be pretty pointless.

Update 28/02: My population/soldiers ratio for Iraq was calculated counting only the American troops; considering the whole Coalition it would be closer to one soldier for 150 people.

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Another Search Phrase 

I can't let this go unpunished: a jolly good fellow from California using AOL googled for the phrase

"italian beliefs regarding rain"

You know, being stupid and born-again-pagan Europeans we believe that rain is the piss of the Sky God. When there is a drought first we pray and do ritual dances; if it persists we sacrifice virgins. Due to a shortage of virgins, the Chief Shaman declared that any woman who has had less than five partners excluding other women will do. Or we'll practice a ritual abortion, so we'll have both the fun and utility.

To make rain cease in case of floods, we burn a witch or a sorcerer or a Jew at the stake instead.

Or if we cannot be bothered with all this, we watch the weather on TV or look on the Internet.

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The Alliance Game 

The whole "Port Storm" is bringing to the surface another of those fundamental semantic issues. This time, it's the meaning of the term ally. Other times has been the meaning of terrorism, and I'm sure you can find more examples.

A lot of the discussion revolves around whether the United Arab Emirates are "good allies" of the USA or not - and the preponderant opinion is that the UAE aren't.
However, I think that many with this opinion are applying wrong, or at least too restrictive definition of ally.

Let's begin with taking a look at a dictionary:

To place in a friendly association, as by treaty: Italy allied itself with Germany during World War II.
To unite or connect in a personal relationship, as in friendship or marriage. v. intr.
To enter into an alliance: Several tribes allied to fend off the invaders.


n. pl. al·lies
One that is allied with another, especially by treaty: entered the war as an ally of France.
One in helpful association with another: legislators who are allies on most issues. See Synonyms at
partner.

And now let's consider the practice of alliance: allies work together for a common objective. And this objective can be just a single one, limited in space and time.

During the course of history, the most unusual associations formed under this scheme. One of the biggest, and most mismateched, was the alliance between the USA and Stalin's USSR against the Axis (an alliance itself) during World War Two.

What emerges is that alliances are formed for mainly utilitarian reasons - because you need someone else to help you against a powerful enemy. Sometimes, the motivations can be very cynical: you need an ally to bear the brunt and/or provide cannon fodder. An alliance does not need commonality of culture or worldview, and not even liking each other. And often, when the common objective is reached former allies become enemies in turn.

Of course nations with similar culture and values, and already in a friendly relationship will easily become allies - but friendship is something much deeper and rare among nations.

There is a large part of Game Theory dealing exactly with the problem of forming coalitions: I don't remember the finer details now, but the driving force is convenience. In order to enter a coalition, players must be sure (or at least be convinced) that they will be better off than playing alone. Convenience can come even as bribes and payoffs; often pure gratitude isn't a big incentive.

Alliances, especially military and geo-political ones, are thus in the realm of strict pragmatism; often it's a matter of picking the less worse option out of an array of bad ones. For example, an useful ally for a certain objective may be hostile towards a third state that is your friend or ally for a different issue. Trying to use moral principles in order to choose allies is likely to end with a useless allliance - or even a counterproductive one. Allies must first of all be useful for achieving the objective at hand; if they're also loyal and dependable it's just a bonus. Yes, it sucks; no, it cannot be changed.

The UAE are host to five US military bases - and if you look closely, you will notice that the UAE span both sides of the peninsula forming the Hormuz Strait. This means that even if the strait is blocked, military supplies can still be transported on the ground to bypass the block. This is an important logistical asset. There is no doubt that the UAE has given important logistical support to the US military in the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, the UAE have also unsavoury connections to islamist elements; have a rather authoritarian government (but still more "liberal" than Saudi Arabia) and are definitely hostile towards Israel.

And this opens another definite can of worms: the nature of the USA-Israel relation. Leaving aside the conspiracy nutcases, I think that this relation is much more utilitarian than many like to admit, especially from the Israeli side. For example Israel would benefit from selling advanced weapons and military hardware to China, but the USA is not happy at all about that.

Is hostility towards Israel a valid reason for the USA to reject potential allies? Ultimately, this discussion is for the People of the USA to have, but considered all I explained above, I would say no.

So, allies want a payoff for their commitment to the coalition. This means that screwing them over isn't a very wise move: the next time around, they may very well screw you over (by the way, that would only be another application of Games Theory: the tit-for-tat strategy) - and if this occurs often, it becomes difficult to find new subjects willing to ally. Unless they desperately need it, but relations born out of need often are dysfunctional.

I have no evidence to state that the port deal is a sort of payoff to the UAE for their services. But I can safely state that rejecting the deal for reasons that it's hard not to pass as anti-Arab/anti-Muslim would probably cause some resentment in the UAE. No, they would not become rabid jihadis overnight - they would probably be much less enthusiast when it comes to do something for the USA.

Actually this is a general criticism I can move to America: often they seem uncaring and arrogant towards allies - even if that is not true. For example, the Cermis accident: even if the tragedy was by no means voluntary, and the trial of the crew followed the procedure written in the Italy-USA relevant treaties, the story left the impression that Americans do not care about or even despise non-americans (no, this is not exactly my opinion).

If you want to know more about the DPW Port Deal, read Dennis the Peasant: he provides answers to certain pertinent questions that very few others have asked - even among those who take pride in supposedly ruthless fact-checking.

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February 25, 2006

Anime Tastes 

Steven DenBeste has put his server back online, and has written some new material for Chizumatic. In particular, a page where he lists the series he will, will not or maybe will purchase.

And geez if he's picky! He spends a few hundred words just to describe his reasons to reject a title!

Mind you, I understand well: selectiveness comes with age; out of curiosity and inexperience youngsters try basically anything. For example, youths tend to drink even the most obnoxious drinks just to get drunk. - but at around twenty many stop doing that, and refine their tastes. Same tends to occur for music.

Anyway, SDB has reject Ghost in the Shell - Standalone Complex because it's grim and gritty and has lousy art". No doubt it's grim and gritty, but it must be that we have very different standards regarding lousy art. However, de gustibus non est disputandum. Shame that Tachikomatic Days is not available separately, because that's something Steven may like for fun.

I have seen Trigun, and what can I say without giving spoilers? Yes, it gets dark at a certain point, and Vash has to face horrible decisions. But it's a night followed by a dawn; there is light at the end of the tunnel and the ending itself is uplifting.

In the end, I like grim and gritty stuff. I appreciate also fan service (who doesn't?) and humor/jokes; I don't despise cuteness but I have little use for it. Of course I need a plot that makes at least some sense, and I do not like the obsession with technology either - when it becomes dominant over the rest.

Yeah, not a great piece. But I decided to write anyway in order to fill up a hour or so.

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February 23, 2006

Done With It 

I'm basically done with Little Green Footballs, you know? My discomfort with the commenters over there has been growing for months: first it was bigel and his "Nuke Europe" battlecry - and he didn't mean it as the "Samson Option", but he wanted (and still wants) revenge for the Holocaust. He and his ilk just toned down the rhetoric if called on it - taqqiyah, if you like - but still gained a considerable following.

Then, bigel finally banned, it came the turn of the pathetic, racist, bigoted American Infidel; a sadist of inconceivable ignorance and arrogance. With an obsessive vein. Not to mention the bunch of Jewish extremists who for months turned into a flame war every thread about Israeli politics - or every thread they posted on. This article is dedicated to them, by the way.

But this thread really went beyond my limit. It isn't particularly bad in itself, but it's a summary of all that's wrong the Lizards these days. LGF evolved from a small community of pleasant conservatives (of various strains), outspoken and unapologetic but basically good-natured to become a community where the majority are fanatical right-wing nutjobs, bitter and hateful; as much irrational, ideologically blind and oblivious to facts as their lefty counterparts.

Look at the utter contempt shown by many for Muslims and Arabs (basically, synonyms in their view) and anything related - beyond not only human decency, but even pragmatism or strategy. And sometimes even beyond what is feasible or possible.

Look at the mess of the Port Deal: there are legitimate concerns about it, but for many LGFers now Dubai is without any doubt a terrorist-supporting state, and DPW a trojan horse that al-Quaeda will use to "take control" of American ports and sneak all sort of nastiness into the USA. The fact that the UAE host five US Military facilities seems to be lost, or of no consequence (yes, the UAE aren't perfect). As is the fact that port security is and will remain under the Department of Homeland Security. And they completely disregard the notion that shafting an ally may make them think twice before giving help and support the next time around.

I don't hate the Lizards, but I do not belong there anymore.

And Charles himself? He does an useful job of publicizing stories that otherwise could easily remain buried. But his choice of stories and headlines sometimes seems to pander directly to the worst elements, and even to stir up trouble just for the sake of it. And he could easily identify the usual suspects among the commenters (who often write dozens of posts per day) and discipline them. Evidently he does not want to - dedication to freedom of speech or agreement with their positions?

Anyway, I want to make clear that there still are plenty of decent, rational, reasonable and knowledgeable people posting over there. But the nutcases, I can't stand. So I'll take down the link to LGF, and will be around there very little in the future. Yes I know, Charles and the Lizards won't even notice my departure - but this is about me, about my integrity.

So let's give some space to a few new blogs: the Italians Watergate and Calamity Jane; the American Tigerhawk. And a general cleanup of the sidebar.

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February 22, 2006

Condimento Universale Abu Ghraib 

Serve a dare quello speciale sapore proibito ad ogni notizia ed articolo. Serve a frustare cavalli morti, e rilanciare media in disperato bisogno di audience. Serve per dare all'eroico combattente comunista (ma senzabretelle) Sigfrido Ranucci un'altra scusa per demonizzare l'occidente: il fosforo agli americani, le torture (da fonte di seconda mano) agli italiani.

Ma la Salsa Abu Ghraib va bene anche per ravvivare l'intimitá con la vostra compagna: chi puó resistere al fascino perverso di giochi carceriera/detenuto con tanto di mutandine, guinzagli e strap-on??

Si, sono stanco. Stanco del mio dannato apparecchio per l'adsorbimento che perde senza causa apparente. Stanco di avere politici e ministri senza palle: Fini, Berlusconi, volete farmi votare Lega Nord (piuttosto che Prodi mi astengo)? Perché avranno molti difetti, ma sicuramente non quello di mancare di testicoli - cosa che invece sembra essere vera per voi.

Sono stanco di chi non capisce una mazza di strategia, di chi non ha nemmeno una vaga idea del significato di pragmatismo (o realismo); degli idealisti ed utopisti di tutti i tipi; di quelli e quelle che si eccitano con le loro fantasie apocalittiche; dei buonisti e dei suddetti senzabretelle; del politicamente corretto e del farneticare multiculturalista; dei fanatici di tutti i colori. Sono stanco di un treno di cose.

No, non sto annunciando la mia uscita di scena. E' solo uno sfogo, e per fortuna ho questo blog dove scriverlo.

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February 20, 2006

Search Phrase of the Day 

From one of the biggest and coldest and unsurprisingly less populated countries in the world - Canada:

"how to make homemade rectifiers and regulators for micro electricity"

Well, study electrotechnics and electronics. Searching the 'Net can give some help, but if you want to design a distillation column you get a chemical engineering book (Treybal - "Mass Transfer Operations" is one; or the adored and revered Perry's); it's not exactly good engineering practice to Google for it.

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Atti di Guerra 

Non ho molto da ggiungere alla vicenda Calderoli. C'é chi ha giá scritto analisi piú approfondite: i Gemelli; A Conservative Mind e Semplicemente Liberale.

Invece quello che mi interessa sono le reazioni del governo italiano alla mezza sommossa di Bengasi. All'insegna del volemose bene, del tenere un piede in due staffe mentre si dá un colpo al cerchio, uno alla botte piena ed un altro alla moglie ubriaca, per ora. Senza contare che sembra proprio che si sia trattato di un'altra protesta non proprio spontanea.

L'assalto ad un consolato é un atto di guerra, ed in altri tempi é bastato meno di questo per mobilitare eserciti (certo, quando c'era giá una situazione propizia alla guerra). Capisco che dalla Libia ed altri paesi arabo-mussulmani noi compriamo parecchio gas e petrolio, ma penso che ci siano altre strade da prendere a parte fare finta che non ci sia nessun problema.

Per esempio si potrebbe lasciare intendere che una riduzione degli investimenti italiani potrebbe peggiorare la giá precaria economia libica. Qualche container di scarpe di Prada (che sembrano essere un bene di prima necessitá fra i ricchi sauditi) potrebbe rimanere bloccato per un pasticcio burocratico alla dogana. La Marina Militare potrebbe decidere di fare manovre d'addestramento giusto fuori dalle acque territoriali libiche - e se qualche motovedetta libica diventa troppo curiosa, potrebbe sempre accadere un disgraziato incidente con un cannone a tiro rapido da 127 mm. Insomma, basta usare la fantasia per trovare un modo di mettere la Libia un poco sotto pressione senza tanti strepiti. Un governo serio dovrebbe farlo subito (non che Prodi sarebbe meglio di Berlusconi in questo frangente - anzi...). E gli stessi Gemelli sarebbero d'accordo.

Ridurre la dipendenza dai combustibili fossili d'importazione é un obbiettivo lodevole, ma decisamente a lungo termine. Anche se si incominciasse domani a progettare centrali nucleari, centrali alimentate a plastica, carta e pneumatici di scarto (che nonostante le lagne ambientaliste sono ottimi combustibili), per poi procedere a costruirle a pieno regime senza ecofanatici a rompere le scatole, ci vorrebbe sempre una decina d'anni prima di vedere risultati pratici. Lo stesso per le ancora piú elusive fonti tipo solare ed eolico.


Infine, vorrei sapere cosa succede a Tocqueville: i miei ultimi articoli in italiano non sono stati aggregati - eppure non mi sembrano scandalosi. Problema tecnico, semplice dimenticanza - o qualcosa di peggio?

Aggiornamento 20:22 GMT: Non ci si puó nascondere dal Vasto Complotto di Destra (Vast Right Wing Conspiracy in inglese); Tocqueville ha aggregato questo stesso articolo. Ma ora le trasmissioni ad onde psicotroniche mi avvertono che i miei dubbi verranno puniti con un taglio al mio stipendio segreto del mese prossimo. Sissignore!

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February 17, 2006

A View From The Centre 

Dennis (The Peasant) has embarked on a more serious project than Ragging on PJM: narrating his personal experience with the Somali Muslim community in Ohio. The first two parts are out, and they're worth reading.

He also links to the Captain's Quarters for the commentary to an article deeply buried in the inner pages of the Washington Post dealing with the adaptations and progresses in counterinsurgency made by the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment in Tall Afar, Iraq. It's interesting reading for military buffs, and a good example of what one single, but skilled, intelligent and knowledgeable officer can accomplish - and I agree with Dennis that many right-wingers should learn counterinsurgency from Col. McMaster. Instead, it seems they learnt tactics from some tribal warlord. With all the consequences of the case.

Update 18/02: Something Awful features one of its usual irriverent articles on the dot.com bubble that fits snugly onto the strange mess of Pajamas Media as well.

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February 15, 2006

Parzialitá di Stampa 

Da che parte pendono i media? A destra od a sinistra? E' una discussione pressoché infinita, ed ogni parte accusa i media di essere conniventi con l'altra.

Oggettivamente, mi sembra che molti piú media pendano a sinistra. Ci sono diverse ragioni per questo, ma credo che quella fondamentale sia che la sinistra (termine usato consapevolmente nella sua accezione piú ampia) mette il proselitismo fra le sue prioritá - pensate a Gramsci, ad esempio.

Comunque non é di politica che voglio parlare, ma di qualcosa di piú sottile e basilare che influenza il comportamento dei media. Al livello piú basso i media sono comunque attivitá commerciali, che mirano a massimizzare il profitto. E per massimizzare il profitto un medium qualunque deve attrarre visitatori (telespettatori, lettori, navigatori Internet) e fornire loro qualcosa che interessi. Ed i nuovi media, come i blogs, non sono esclusi.

I media quindi sono per loro stessa natura parziali verso le notizie e contro le non-notizie. Notizie sono i fatti interessanti per i visitatori, e mentre le preferenze personali hanno un ruolo, ci sono delle categorie universali: le notizie sono fatti inusuali, inaspettati, anomali, anormali, strani, perversi - con l'aggiunta del sesso, che vende sempre bene.

Perché il caso di un paziente che muore per un errore o negligenza dei medici é una notizia? Perché la norma, quello che ci aspettiamo accada, é che i medici trattino propriamente i loro pazienti e riescano a guarirli; o almeno facciano del loro meglio in questo senso. Quello che non ci aspettiamo é che nostante gli anni di duro studio e tirocinio i medici commettano stupidi errori e negligenze. Oppure che quelli che hanno giurato di dedicarsi ai pazienti possano invece fregarsene allegramente. Ogni giorno moltissimi pazienti vengono trattati propriamente e con successo, ma nessun giornale titolerá "Buonasanitá: oggi é andato tutto bene" perché é una non-notizia (almeno si spera...).

La faziositá ideologica certamente esiste, ma non é l'unico problema che affligge i media; le loro caratteristiche fondamentali giá causano un certo tipo di distorsione. Non si puó evitare, ma almeno possiamo renderci conto che esiste e comportarci di conseguenza. I media sono imparziali quanto una televendita.

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Harder To Believe 

Once upon a time, when people didn't know any better, a lightning strike or earthquake were enough to demonstrate that God existed, was powerful and likely angered. Likewise, rain after a drought or sun after a flood were proof that finally God listened to the prayers and paid heed to the plight of the faithful.

But then scientific and technical knowledge grew, and nowadays we know that there is nothing supernatural about lighting and earthquakes: it's electricity and atmospheric dynamics; it's plate tectonics and geology. We also know that weather is a fairly chaotic and thus not completely predictable system.

Then we have evolution. I think I know why many hate it with unique passion: not because of the flaws or weak points of this model, but because it denies that mankind has a special place in the world. When I say "deny", I do not mean that there is a plot or agenda behind evolution (there are individuals with agendas, tho); it is a model for the physical world and thus neutral in this sense. However, the meaning of evolution is that humans are the product of mutation and selection, like any other lifeform; they have no special purpose or role. This is quite contrary to what many religious doctrines say - namely, that God created mankind to fulfill a great plan of his (yes, I know that there is considerable variation around this theme).

I can understand how the scientific progress left many believers in disarray, requiring their faith to have different bases than the popular superstition that was enough for millennia. Indeed, not all cultures moved past the stage of animism/natural religion/whatever. However, in the end most believers adapted and manage to reconcile pretty well scientific knowledge with religious belief (except evolution; that is still cause of inflamed debates).

But for those who used people's beliefs as a tool to gain power, influence and wealth, science came as a true catastrophe; it meant that they could not anymore rule through simple tricks and creating mysteries. It is not accidental that conspirationism is most popular among religious and ideological (the border between religion and ideology is blurred) fanatics: they are the ones most likely to refuse the scientific knowledge and method; something that would rapidly pulverize most conspiracies (also post-modernists refuse the science as another social construct with no universal value, and they're big conspirationists too). And it is neither accidental that these "true believers" are desperately lashing out against what they see as an attack against the very foundations of their worldview (and often power).

But for me the weirdest ones are those who accept all science and engineering except evolution (and related matters). Chemistry is ok; mechanical engineering too; computer science is nice; physics and mathematics no problem; medicine is great and genetically modified plants are cool. But evolution is junk science (add eventually global warming), that's what they say. But they cannot have it both ways: the methods and basic knowledge are the same throughout all science; modern medicine is vastly based on evolutive models and genetics and molecular biology go hand in hand with evolution. Genetic programming works surprisingly well in many cases, and has produced astounding results.

The methods used to measure temperature and to process vast amounts of data are applied to many problems of practical interest, and they apply to global warming as well. While there is a lot of politicking about these issues, there is also little doubt that Earth warmed a little in recent times (but there is vastly insufficient knowledge regarding the state, causes and eventual solutions to this problem).

Still, I do not agree with those using science to bash religious beliefs: we cannot prove or disprove the existence of God using a scientific method; that is still in the realm of metaphisics.
Maybe one day quantum cosmology will be advanced enough to answer the question about The Life, Universe and Everything (and hopefully return an answer different from "42"), but I don't see it coming anytime soon.

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February 12, 2006

Fooling Around 

Another slow, drowsy Sunday is slipping away. The weather is cloudy, rainy and depressive (could you guess, in England?) and I barely found the intellectual energy to write more about Italian food. And to add a few blogs to my sidebar.

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February 10, 2006

Jackbooted Thugs Stifling Dissent 

A government shut down the website of a dissident newspaper that in a brave and daring move published some cartoons offensive to a minority of religious radicals.

Is this Bush's Karl Rove's AmeriKKKa?

No. It is oh-so-enlightened Sweden.

The dissident newspaper is SD-Kuriren, a publication with a circulation of roughly 30 000 labelled as "far right" - that considering Sweden's political climate probably means "to the right of Chomsky".

The sin? You can quite imagine already: publishing a new Mohammed cartoon and thus offending certain delicate sensibilities.
This is what the Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds has to say:
"I will defend freedom of the press no matter what the circumstances, but I strongly condemn the provocation by SD-Kuriren. It displays a complete lack of respect"
No, you multi-culti idiot, you're not defending freedom of the press. You're actively censoring speech that you, (part of) the Muslims and your friends do not agree with.

I have a word for this, and it's totalitarianism. Not freedom.
And at this point one can legitimately suspect that the Swedish government is surrendering to the Islamists.

Do you want the crocodile to eat you as third or fourth course, spineless pomo wankers?

Other things to bang my head against a steel pillar:
As a partial cure, I propose to dissolve the EU and leave only a free market area and thus proceed to roll back all the obnoxious statalist and tranzist directives and whatnot pushed upon Italy by the Bruxelles Buffoons.

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February 08, 2006

Applying Statistics 

Yesterday I spent thw whole day at home with the flu, and god bless the Internet for these situations. Last night I was truly shaking with fever, and that ain't fun. However, today I'm OK even if I feel a bit funny still.

It occurred to me that often the discussion of issues such as religious or ideological fanatism seems to be framed in the wrong terms. For example, when one points to the ovious intolerance and fanatism of Islamists, almost always someone pops up to point out that there are Christian and Jewish extremists too.
The first flaw of these arguments is that one fanaticism does not excuse the other - especially for an agnostic like me.

The second is that meraly pointing to the existance of non-Muslim fanatics does indeed explain little.

I think it is necessary to consider things a bit more objectively, and this requires statistics. Statistical distributions describe the frequency of a variable across a population - for example, the height of adult males. The most common (I think) distribution is the Gaussian one, also called "normal distribution" or bell-curve. There are many more statistical distributions useful for different cases; for example blog traffic follows a power-law distribution: there are relatively little blogs with a very high traffic, and many more with low traffic.

The normal distribution is symmetrical and centered on the median value. For example, the median height of Italian males was 172 cm (If I remember correctly) a few years ago: this means that most males will be of that height or close, while there is only a small fraction of males much taller or much shorter. The median height of say, Filipinos is lower while Brits tend to be taller. Knowing the distribution function it is easy to calculate the probability of someone being taller or shorter than a specified value, and other interesting quantities.

Of course religious opinions are much more difficult to treat in this way; I think that at least two variables are required, one being the degree of belief and the other tolarence (something like this quiz). The normal distribution of two variables is represented as a three-dimensional surface with one single maximum, as you can see here. I expect that plotting these distributions for Jews, Christians and Muslims will show that Christian and Jews are centered on rather moderate and tolerant positions - while Muslims are centered on more fanatical and less tolerant positions.

Alternatively, the distributions may very well not be Gaussian (maybe they are Gamma), and thus skewed towards moderation for Christians and Jews but towards fanaticism for Muslims.

So yes, there are fanatics on all sides, and also very accomodant Muslims. But the distribution of "belief intensity" and tolerance is different, that's the point (and also, whether Islamists are a minority or not, they are enough to cause great trouble).

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February 05, 2006

And Now, For Something Completely Different 

Someone reached my blog searching for the meaning of the Italian word Cina.

Well, it's pretty straightforward: it means China.

The Italian c is usually equivalent to the English ch; Italian ch sounds like k (and indeed instant-message Italian, which I despise, often uses k instead of ch).

And you may want to read abouty my metallic antics in London.

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Prioritá 

Sembra che tutti, da Ciampi e Pisanu al Vaticano ed il Dipartimento di Stato americano stiano facendo a gara a dirci che le religioni e culture altrui debbano sempre essere rispettate.

Ed il rispetto per la nostra cultura dove lo mettiamo? Mi viene da chiedere.

Ma non é questo il punto. Io sono in parte d'accordo con questi inviti: le offese e le provocazioni gratuite non mi sembrano né buone ne saggie. Tuttavia ci sará sempre qualcuno che offenderá il prossimo, non c'é niente da fare.

Ma ditemi, Pisanu e Ciampi e tutti gli altri: cosa é piú importante, la libera espressione od il rispetto? Voglio una risposta chiara e tonda, senza arzigogolare.

Perché se ritenete la libera espressione piú importante del resto, allora ci rimane solo da discutere di dettagli secondari. Ma se credete che il rispetto sia piú importante, allora il disaccordo diventa insanabile.

Ma perché faccio tante storie per qualcosa che alla fine solo soltanto parole, o disegni, qualcuno potrebbe chiedere? Perché parole e disegni fanno parte di qualcosa di piú grande e complesso: i fatti seguono le parole, e le parole seguono le idee.

Togliere la libertá di espressione equivale, anche non intenzionalmente, al tentativo di sopprimere certe idee (quali in particolare cambia da caso a caso). Ma io ritengo che questo modo di fare sia sbagliato: é meglio il mercato delle idee, dove i diversi memi devono competere senza pietá; dove le idee stupide (come quelle secondo le quali esistono persone geneticamente inferiori) possono essere smascherate e ridicolizzate fino a renderle assolutamente marginali. D'altra parte, dove certe idee non possono essere espresse apertamente queste tendono a diffondersi sotterraneamente e crescere in forme mostruose, come un'infezione che si sviluppa in una ferita bendata prima di averla disinfettata.

Penso che valga la pena di leggere l'analisi (in inglese) di Wretchard sulla vicende delle vignette dello Jyllands-posten: nessuno sa come andrá a finire. I mussulmani* hanno escalato dalla loro parte assalendo e bruciando le ambasciate di Danimarca e Norvegia (si, la Norvegia, uno degli stati piú imbelli e politicamente corretti del mondo) a Damasco, e quella danese a Beirut. Spero che questi governi rispondano con fermezza a quello che da secoli é considerato un'atto di guerra - ma qualche esagitato in Europa potrebbe attaccare bersagli islamici. E mentre non c'é dubbio che si tratta di azioni illegali, sarebbe difficle per me condannarli moralmente. Ma forse la crisi é esplosa proprio verso lo scadere del tempo utile, quando ancora il numero dei mussulmani in Europa non é ancora abbastanza alto da rappresentare una seria minaccia ai governi locali.

*Lo so, sto generalizzando. E quando si parla di Siria, é probabile che il regime di Assad sia coinvolto in queste azioni "spontanee".

Aggiornamento: Sí, sembra proprio che queste esplosioni di spontanea rabbia islamica non siano poi cosí spontanee, alla fine. Il Counterterrorism Blog ci informa che durante lo scorso dicembre una delegazione guidata dall'imam danese Abu Laban ha fatto un giro del Medio-oriente mostrando insieme alla dodici famose vignette anche alcune fortemente offensive, che peró sono state fabbricate ad arte perché mai pubblicate in Danimarca. E come se non bastasse, questa delegazione ha anche presentato una lettera nella quale dichiara l'intento di creare animositá. E per finire, Abu Laban é stato scoperto a criticare il boicottaggio dei prodotti danesi parlando in inglese - per poi lodarlo in arabo su al-Jazira.

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February 02, 2006

Il Momento dell'Attivismo 

Dopo che un giornale danese ha pubblicato una serie di vignette raffiguranti Maometto, si é scatenata l'indignazione del mondo islamico: diplomatici di diversi paesi arabi hanno chiesto scuse formali da parte del governo danese; molti arabi stanno praticando un boicottaggio dei prodotti danesi (dico arabi perché non ho notizie riguardo paesi mussulmani ma non arabi come il Pakistan o l'Indonesia) e dai mussulmani europei sono arrivate richieste di leggi contro la pubblicazione di materiale offensivo (per loro) e la blasfemia. A Gaza, squadristi palestinesi hanno occupato la sede della missione della UE in protesta, ed il direttore di un giornale francese che ha ripubblicato le vignette é stato licenziato dal proprietario della testata (con le piú vili motivazioni di correttezza politica).

Questa controversia riguarda un diritto fondamentale, ovvero la libertá di espressione.

La libertá di esprimere le proprie idee é una caratteristica fondamentale delle societá libere ed avanzate, ma ha un importante corollario: non ci puó essere libertá di espressione dove é vietato esprimere idee che possano offendere qualcuno.

Ora, io non sostengo che sia necessario offendere ed insultare per esercitare la libertá di espressione, ma so per ragionamento ed esperienza che anche idee apparentmente innocenti possono risultare profondamente offensive ad altre persone. Ed allo stesso modo, io sono esposto ogni giorno ad idee e comportamenti che mi danno molto fastidio. Eppure non voglio censurare nessuno o costringere altri a modificare il loro comportamento - perché io sono tollerante e credo profondamente nella libertá individuale.

Non offendere mai nessuno é il principio alla base della correttezza politica, e la sua logica conseguenza é la censura, l'eliminazione delle idee e concetti che "offendono" le vittime di turno.

Questo é un momento importante per l'Europa, credo: se le forze della correttezza politica vinceranno, significa che il futuro é probabilmente segnato, che l'Europa ha perso la volontá di combattere per i suoi valori ed é alla mercé di chiunque voglia imporre la sua cultura - Islamisti in primis. Ma se invece i difensori della libertá di espressione avranno successo, sará un importante contrattacco nella guerra culturale ed il segno che la cultura europea, che ha prodotto molti risultati ammirevoli, ha ancora la volontá di lottare e non farsi sottomettere.

Il mio blog non puó da solo cambiare il mondo, ma posso dare il mio piccolo contributo al Mercato delle Idee. Per cui, cliccando sotto potrete visitare una galleria di immagini di Maometto di epoche diverse, che comprende anche le ormai famose vignette danesi:

Le rappresentazioni di Maometto (ed il suo mirror).

Aggiornamento 3/02: Grande, come al solito, Magdi Allam: ci ricorda quali sono i termini della questione, e che ci sono anche mussulmani progressisti.

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